On the Grid

Photo Credit: Wendy Harman, CC BY 2.0

I was down in Washington a couple weeks ago and was reminded of the difference between global and non-global cities in terms of how they operate.

I was talking with someone there and he mentioned that he’d discovered that the real opposition to food trucks these days was not coming from bricks and mortar restaurants (which are often cash poor and not especially politically powerful), but from commercial real state interests (who are both wealthy and have massive political clout at the local level).

This was a perspective on the food truck business I hadn’t heard before. And it wasn’t based on a DC local perspective, but a derived from a national one.

A lot has been made about the coastal “bubble” such as the one along the Acela corridor. But as I’ve noted before, people in these cities actually know a lot about what’s going on in the country and the world.

The intellectual classes in NYC are a lot more knowledgable about the interior of the country than most people living in the interior are. People in interior cities might know a ton about the place they personal live, but often know next to nothing about the city just 100 miles down the interstate.

The bubble effect in coastal cities comes not from a lack of information, but a lack of imagination. There are some things they just don’t want to be true, so they refuse to believe them.

Though hardly perfect in their analyses, these global cities are key hubs in national and international information flows. When I found out what was going on in food truck regulation around the country, I didn’t travel around myself, I went to Washington and found it out there.

New York, Washington – and others cities like Boston and San Francisco – are what I like to call “on the grid.” When you are there you are plugged into global information flows. When you want to find out what’s going on – head to the global city.

Other cities don’t give off that vibe. I love Nashville and it’s booming, but when I visit there I don’t get the sense that I’m plugged into the grid. I’m sure for some specific things – music, health care – the city functions that way, but on the whole that feeling of being connected to global information flows is not something I have felt or heard people talk about with regards to that city.

I pick Nashville because it’s a prosperous city. I want to be clear that being on the grid isn’t necessary to be very successful. It just seems to me that there is a qualitative difference in functioning and feel between these global cities and others.

from Aaron M. Renn


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